How To Properly Set Pickup Height
Learning how to set your pickup’s height correctly is probably the most overlooked step in purchasing a set of pickups. It would be like buying a new car and not inflating the tires. Pickup height is a critical element of your guitar’s tone. Set too low, and your pickup is inefficient and weak. Set too high, and your pickup will cause all sorts of problems for you. Let’s delve into why pickup height matters, and how to set it correctly!
Why Pickup Height Matters:
Set to the correct height, your pickup’s magnets create a strong magnetic field that gives your guitar the tone that you love. Set too high, and your pickups can push and pull your strings out of tune. The Magnetic Field is not optimized when the pickup is set too low.
This article focuses on pickups that feature Alnico Magnets – think Stratocaster or Telecaster. P90-Style pickups really benefit from the entire pickup raised to the optimized height, then fine-tuning the string balance with pole pieces. Split Blades are a different beast: check the video below to see Lindy adjust some Split Blades.
How To Measure:
- Start by pressing the Low E String (Bass Side) down at the highest fret, and hold it while you measure.
- Measure the distance from the bottom of the string to the top of the Low E Pole.
- Do the same thing on the High E String (Treble Side).
Let’s clear something up: there is no 100% accurate height. That said, here is a great starting point:
The reason why there is no “100% correct” height, is that every guitar, player, and playing style differs. One guitarist may play harder than another guitarist, and one guitar may have thicker and heavier gauge guitar strings than another!
1.) Setting Pickup Height Too High:
Setting your pickup height too high will cause your magnets to push and pull your strings out of tune. Here’s a quick way to tell if this is happening to you: play the Low E string at a high fret (15th fret is a good one to start at). You might hear a “warbling” sound. That sound is your magnet fighting your string. Back the pickup away until the “warbling” sound disappears!
2.) Setting Pickup Height Too Low:
Setting your pickup height too low would cause your pickup not to be optimized for your guitar. Your magnetic field “floats” above the pickup, and if your strings are out of the field, you won’t get a rich, full tone. That said, backing off on your pickup’s height will cause your bass to thin and your pickup to sound a bit “sweeter” – you might like it! Experiment!
3.) Wrong Orientation:
The correct pickup height orientation is lower on the bass side and closer on the treble side. Your Bass strings have more mass and will disturb the magnetic field more than treble strings. Reversing your pickup height orientation will provide you with “warbling” bass strings and thin treble strings – not good.
Lindy’s Take On it:
As Lindy likes to explain it, adjusting your pickup’s height is not all about measuring, it’s about listening as well!
Well, that about does it for this month. Stay tuned for future articles!
Can you tel me why on my pick -ups the magnet heads are high and some low , I have adjusted them all the same level and then set the pick-up as you have instructed and it sounds good , Have I done the right or should I not touched the magnet heads , Help Please .
Any tips on getting more quack or cluck out of positions 2 and 4 on a Strat? I’ve got one that sounds muffled in those positions but clear in 1, 3 and 5. I do have the half blender mod and these are not Fralin’s but Stew Mac Strat pickups. I’ve tried raising and lowering the middle but can’t seem to nail it.
Hey John, the trick is to have a brighter middle pickup. For example, I have a set of Vintage Hots, but I use a Real 54 in the middle position. This gives a bit more glassiness and “quack” out of positions 2 & 4.
what about the noiseless p90 that sits in my single coil spot that i got from you?
start at 8mm bass side and 4mm treble side as well?
I did not see any YouTube video nor any mention of this on Lindy’s website, so here goes…
If we replace 3 ceramic magnet Strat pickups with 3 Alnico V pickups, is a new and somewhat ‘brighter’ capacitor installed for the replacement pickups ?
Hi Mr. Fralin,
Just want to thank you for your special pickups. I put the Blues Special on my ash body Strat and the Vintage Hot on my alder body Strat, both American made. Noiseless stock were good, but these are big improvement! (I happen to play 11’s, tuned to D)
Thank you for this material on height adjustment. I was making questionable adjustments ad hoc without a recommended starting point.
What is the adjustment from the Rez-O-Matik pickups on a Burns guitaar in mm
Hi! Great article and helpful as I adjusted my pickups for my newly purchased Epiphone ES-339. I was able to get all of the heights adjusted to the recommended starting point except one – the neck pickup low E side. I lowered it as close to the recommended ?” as I could but there was still at least ?” to 1/16” clearance remaining and the screw simply came out with no further lowering. As is still sounds good and much clearer (pickups in general especially low E side were way too high). Not sure if the action height makes a difference; 1.5mm on low E side and 1mm on high E which is just about perfect and no fret buzz or dead note areas.